I love being an American. This is not to be confused with loving everything American. My love does not blind me to my country’s imperfections and the many flaws in the actions of our leaders. But at this time of year I try to set aside my reservations and criticisms to revisit how we began as a nation and, okay, wallow in sentimental depictions of our history and principles.
A favorite movie this time of year is 1776. The affectionate, but inaccurate, musical storyline is both amusing and poignant. The extended version includes a number often deleted from airing called “Cool, Considerate Men.” Written during Watergate, the song is as skewering today as it was then, about men in the shadows who make all the decisions from their positions of safety. But I digress. The truth is I adore the love duets between Abigail and John Adams.
This year we’re planning to watch Born Yesterday with our daughter, who is 10. And blonde. The story of a stereotypical dumb blonde whose boyfriend hires a mentor to educate her for polite society, the blonde is played by Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her performance as Billie Dawn. Her gangstah boyfriend is played by Broderick Crawford and the mentor by William Holden. Of course Billie falls for the smart guy, dumps the bad guy, exposes the crooked congressman, and outwits the unethical lawyer who was arranging some lobbying hanky panky.
Why am I making sure our daughter watches it? First, she’ll like it. Second, it’s well-written and performed and you can never expose a child to too much good writing. Third (and the reason I often watch it over) it shows the Washington Mall during the Fourth of July, complete with boats on the Potomac for the concert. Fourth, Billie is enchanted by the National Gallery, just like I am, every time I visit it.
Last—and this is the biggie—the gin rummy scene. Based purely on Billie’s bombshell appearance, we’ve been led to believe she’s stupid. Playing cards it becomes quite clear that she wasn’t born yesterday. Later in the story, when the so-called lovable lug of a boyfriend slaps her, it’s also clear that Billie no longer believes she should be anybody’s punching bag. Huzzah!
People still tell blonde jokes, and my tow-headed daughter will hear her fair share. No matter how amusing a pun may be, I’m trying to teach her, to paraphrase Joanna Russ, not to laugh at the sight of her own blood. Born Yesterday is one of the earliest, and instructively humorous representations of The Blonde celebrating her own independence day. Time for popcorn!